I’ve always resented the assumption that people of faith have a more finely tuned moral compass than atheists. Even though I don’t consider myself to be card carrying, going to meetings, die-hard atheist anymore, I was once a particularly passionate member of that camp and I still find myself getting a bit offended on their behalf (which would probably irritate them and make them feel patronised, now I think of it).
I always knew I was a good person. I was nice (ish) to (most) people. I gave money to charity and I did volunteer work. I saw myself as just as much a citizen as those around me. Actually, I felt much more engaged politically and socially than most other people that I compared myself to. I’ve practically been an activist at various stages of my life, for goodness sake. That’s pretty bloody moral.
Then, recently, I was looking over some old posts at Conversion Diary, a blog that I’ve been following (and often disagreeing with) for several years. (I’ve just spent 20 minutes trying to find the exact quote, and it’s turning into a whole new form of procrastination so I will have to paraphrase). Basically she said that before she became a Catholic, she did her fair share of generous and selfless acts. She volunteered and gave to charity, but all of this was on her terms. It was an addendum to her life; if she had time, then she fitted in a spot of philanthropy.
And seeing as it was an optional extra, what ever she was able to give of herself was enough.
After her conversion, however, giving became a fundamental part of her life. Helping others wasn’t something that she did, but rather it was part of who she was.
Now, for me, that’s huge.
Religion has such power to be a force for good. The world is in a sad state, and most people seem too wrapped up in their own mortgages and garden maintenence to care. Most people are good and pleasant people. They never do anything deliberately evil, but rather they just don’t feel any ownership of what is happening in the world; they feel no imperative to fix anything because it doesn’t directly affect them. (I consider myself to be in this group; I’m not passing the buck. I had to stop reading Peter Singer’s ‘The Life You Can Save’ because of the life changing ramifications that the acceptance of it’s message would entail).
But if there is a whole group of people who feel that they must do something because it is their moral and ethical duty, and who aren’t going to back out of a volunteer job because things get messy and real, then surely that alone is worth the price of admission.
Someone quite close to me has a tendency to say that people should be good because they want to be good, not because they want a ticket to heaven. It shouldn’t be about getting anything back, he says. It should be based on purely altruistic motives.
Which is all well and good, but at the end of the day, who is more useful to the downtrodden of our world; the person who fits in occasional good deeds between lunch dates, or the person who commits their life to helping the downtrodden, because they know that God demands it of them?.
Religion as a force for good. I like the sound of that.